Common Ground#4

Against Prisons: Art and Activism in California

Weekly conversations with activists, social justice practitioners, and changemakers.


1 p.m. Eastern / 10 a.m. Pacific

Please join us for the fourth installment of Common Ground, featuring James King, Emiliano Lopez, and Gregory Sale in conversation with Pete Brook on anti-prison activism in California

In this talk

At the start of quarantine, the Brooklyn Rail asked how might we stay connected to each other in a time of self-isolation? Now we ask: How can we stay involved and engaged in upholding our civic responsibility to one another across communities? How can we deploy this community built through the New Social Environment—through hundreds of conversations and meals shared over the past six months—to mobilize daily action for grassroots movements, social justice and equity projects, and for the political good of our most marginalized communities across the nation? Tune in Thursdays at 1pm for Common Ground, a new lunchtime series featuring weekly conversations with social justice practitioners, changemakers, and activists on how we can mobilize our daily actions to radically reimagine our democracy.

Please join us for our fourth installment of Common Ground featuring James King, State Campaigner for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Emiliano Lopez and Gregory Sale, collaborators behind Future IDs at Alcatraz, an ongoing exhibition which uses ID-inspired artworks by a team of collaborators in the carceral system to translate the demand for criminal justice reform into stark visual language, to radically reframe the narrative of reentry, and to offer the possibility of alternative futures. They will be in conversation with Pete Brook, writer and social justice curator behind Prison Photography, for a discussion on the urgent campaigns, successful strategies, and ongoing fights to which grassroots organizers in the Golden State are committed.

We will close with a reading by poet Mona Kareem.

Pete Brook

A photograph of Pete Brook by Robert Gumbert
Pete Brook is a writer, curator and educator focused on prisons, photos, and power. In 2008, he founded the website Prison Photography to bring together research and writing that unpacks issues of procedure, visibility, distribution and art in imagery as it emerges from the U.S. prison system. Pete has curated multiple exhibitions, including Prison Obscura (2014–2016) that brought together images about mass incarceration that were created outside of the documentary tradition. Pete’s writing has been published by Aperture, The Atlantic, ICP, The Marshall Project, Time, Truthout, Wired and others. In 2018, Pete was awarded the W. Eugene Smith Fund’s Howard Chapnick Award and a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting for his work teaching history of photography in San Quentin State Prison. Pete teaches at California State University, Sacramento.

James King

James King

James King is the State Campaigner for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Prior to joining the organization, James worked to build recognition of the value of people who are being held in carceral spaces. In 2016, he organized a symposium at San Quentin, where he and other incarcerated students made specific policy recommendations concerning the implementation of Prop 57. In attendance were the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, various officials from the California Governor’s office, numerous social justice advocates, and many of his incarcerated peers.

James is also a writer and organizer, having written numerous op-eds, and a weekly blog that gave a first person perspective of the true impact of mass criminalization and living within the prison industrial complex. As an organizer, he founded a think tank of incarcerated people who were passionate about criminal justice policy and built relationships with multiple California criminal justice reform organizations.

Emiliano Lopez

Emiliano Lopez
Photo by Peter Merts

Emiliano Lopez is a justice advocate and artist based in Los Angeles, CA. He currently serves as Communications and Advocacy for GRIP Training Institute and facilitates the program at Avenal State Prison. Emiliano previously worked as a placement coordinator for the Amity Foundation, housing people coming out of incarceration, he served as program associate for Defy Ventures and he is a member of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

Emiliano has a passion for art and social justice. His artwork was included in Future IDs at Alcatraz (2018-2019), an exhibition about justice reform and second chances. He serves as a Future IDs artist collaborator and has assisted in the production of numerous cultural and media projects including: Future IDs at Alcatraz, We Rise, Unions for All Summit, and Childcare Celebration for Collective Bargaining.

Gregory Sale

Gregory Sale
Photo by Catherine Akins

As a socially-engaged artist, Gregory Sale brings together often opposed constituencies of the criminal justice system. His aim is to soften and collapse boundaries, thereby encouraging reciprocal dialogue and mutual learning. A somewhat quieter but no less political component of his work flirts with the fluid parameters of public and private love. Sale is now collaborating with individuals who have conviction histories on a series of projects that focus on changing the narrative of reentry. Rap Sheet to Resume (2015-16) was created with the Urban Justice Center in New York. As an embedded artist with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, and in partnership with National Parks Service and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, he is currently developing Future IDs at Alcatraz (2018-19) for the iconic prison turned National Park in San Francisco Bay.

His work has received support from Creative Capital Foundation, Art Matters, SPArt (Social Practice Art), A Blade of Grass/David Rockefeller Fund, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. He has been awarded prestigious artist residency at Headlands, Montalvo, Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, Ucross, and Centre d’Art Marnay. Based in Phoenix and in Los Angeles, Sale is Associate Professor of Intermedia and Public Practice at School of Art at Arizona State University.

The Rail has a tradition of ending our conversations with a poetry reading, and we’re fortunate to have Mona Kareem reading.

Mona Kareem

Mona Kareem
Mona Kareem is the author of three poetry collections, and most recently, the chapbook Femme Ghosts. She is currently a Translator-in-Residence at Princeton University.

❤️ 🌈 We'd like to thank the The Terra Foundation for American Art for making these daily conversations possible, and for their support of our growing archive.